It was bound to happen – Mina convinces herself. There are nine people in Twice, an odd number which troubles Mina the most. The number is meant to reflect some sort of bond that Girls’ Generation sunbaes once had, or so their CEO said. They are supposed to prove that they are better and can become the next nation’s girl group – Twice is the real OT9, now that Girls’ Generation is reduced to an even number of eight. Ironic, because the lead dancer feels that they are anything but bonded.
When there are an odd number of people, someone is bound to get left out. (Mina guesses that she is just unlucky.)
Maybe that is why Jessica left Girls’ Generation – and she seems so much happier without the burden of being the odd one out. Jessica took seven years to finally pack her bags and leave. It makes Mina question if she will ever get over this feeling. Will she end up leaving Twice too, branded by supposedly loyal fans as the black sheep of the group? The thought makes her lower lip tremble because she doesn’t want that. She wants to stay with Twice for ten, twenty years, maybe forever. She wants them to remain friends. She wants them to be happy together.
Mina wants a lot of things, but most of the time, what she wants doesn’t matter.
Like how she wanted to room with someone – anyone – but ended up having a room all to herself. The members complain about their roommates frequently, like how Jungyeon groans when Momo leaves food crumbs in her room, or how Jihyo wants to cry when she sees Nayeon leaving a trail of clothes as she undresses. Mina always laughs softly because they all grumble their grievances to her and tell her she’s lucky for having a room all to herself. She doesn’t say anything else because her tongue feels too heavy from too many unsaid words.
Mina wishes she could complain about her roommate – loneliness.
In the darkness of her room, barely illuminated by the streetlights outside her window, the happy facade peels off her like a worn-out skin. Funny how all her walls only come crashing down when she’s surrounded by four walls. She would have laughed at the irony of it all if only she didn’t feel like crying. But she cannot let her tears fall because her members are still awake due to the lack of schedules these days. She prays that no one finds her like this, huddling in a corner of the room with reddened eyes and messy hair.
No one needs to know of this. The members are already troubled with too many things. They have their own insecurities and they do not need another burden which comes in the form of Myoui Mina. The girl remembers how her team members had looked at her with frustrated eyes when she could not get the choreography down during Sixteen. Nayeon and the rest had comforted her when she cried, telling her that they didn’t blame her. Mina knows they were telling the truth, but she recognized the look in their eyes. It was the same look her parents had given her when she had not managed to score an A for a test – a look of exhaustion and disappointment.
Suddenly, there is a knock on her door and her heart quickens. Hastily, she picks up her phone and opens up her internet browser, hoping that she doesn’t look like a mess. The door opens and light from the living room Jihyo pops her head in and smiles her unnie smile – a smile that warms Mina slightly and makes her realize why Jihyo was appointed leader.
“Mina-ya, I know you’re a homebody but can you emerge from your cave for a while?”
Mina thinks she isn’t a homebody (she’s just lonely), but she gives a tight-lipped smile and hopes Jihyo can’t see through her in the darkness.
“Sure, I’m reading something so give me a minute?” Her voice does not tremble and she is thankful she at least has some semblance of control over her emotions.
“Okay, come out soon. We have chocolate ice cream, your favourite,” Jihyo says.
The light gets shut out as Jihyo closes the door. Shrouded in midnight once again, Mina wonders why the room seems darker than before. Glancing at her phone, she sighs at the white emptiness that fills the screen. She thumbs the home button and she is instantly taking to her homepage. She studies the background for a while – a group picture of Twice, with her face slightly cut out because her screen isn’t large enough to accommodate the picture.
Maybe things should be this way, with her out of the picture.
Her grip loosens on the phone and she lets the phone slip from between her fingers, clattering noisily against the floor. She can hear her members’ voices outside, slightly muffled but still discernable. She thinks about joining them, trying to imagine her own voice blending in with theirs. (Mina can almost hear a certain kind of dissonance just by thinking of her own soft voice in contrast with the loud ones outside.)
She figures that she is probably an immiscible liquid. It makes her think of hands that are supposed to fit and hearts that are supposed to be in sync.
That is why she ends up not joining them, clutching at her chest in the darkness and wondering why her heart seems to be beating all wrong.
It is during Tzuyu’s birthday party held in conjunction with a fan sign when she feels the distance between her and her members grow. Fans are invited to join in as well and the venue is filled with male fans, with female fans occasionally popping up. Her members are surrounding their maknae now and Jihyo has a camera filming v-app in real time.
Mina stands a distance away, watching the members congregate around. She is aware of the many fan cameras that are filming her, so she fixes a smile, deathly hoping the cameras will not be able to capture the stiff smile she is sporting.
Someone suggests that they give Tzuyu birthday kisses but Mina cannot tell who. There is too much noise, with the members talking loudly and fans clamouring to grab their attention. She feels seized with chaos and her hands are balled into fists. The table cluttered with fan-given presents barely manage to hide away her fists – but she doesn’t know why her teeth are gritted together in a tight smile, why her fists are clenched, or why her chest feels so tight.
Tzuyu is adorned with a birthday hat and the members are eagerly taking their turns to land their lips on Tzuyu. Nayeon plants a kiss on the girl’s cheek loudly and she buries her face in both her hands in embarrassment. Mina sees how adorable Tzuyu is, the maknae who everyone adores, the visual who is always in front during a performance, the prized center of all attention. The fans go crazy at the skinship and Mina laughs, making sure to complement it with several claps. She looks away after that, the sight somehow paining her. Their leader goes straight to Tzuyu to film her up close, brushing past Mina.
She feels like thin air, except that she cannot float and drift away. It makes her wish she was the maknae and not somewhere in the middle, stuck with the responsibilities of being both an unnie and a respectful dongsaeng.
Tzuyu looks like she’s drowning in kisses and the fans call for Mina to kiss Tzuyu too. She mouths ‘wait’ to the fans and inches closer to Tzuyu. She hates feeling like this – her envy altering its form into a green-eyed monster like some post Fukushima nightmare. Inhaling deeply, she tries to shove negative thoughts into the back of her head because she knows Tzuyu would rather be treated with insincerity rather than artificial sincerity (especially after all that she has been through).
She touches Tzuyu’s arm lightly, getting her attention. The youngest member grins at her with happiness alight in her eyes. Her eyes are clear and honest that Mina feels like she has been punched in the gut with remorse. Swallowing uneasily, she shuffles closer to Tzuyu.
“Tzuyu-ah, unnie hasn’t kissed you yet,” she manages to say and the younger girl obediently allows herself to be pulled by Mina.
Like the lovable maknae she is, she bends her knees to lower her height in consideration. Mina can feel herself withering in guilt because Tzuyu is too kind, heart overflowing with the kindest intentions. Mina holds her head gently before standing on the tip of her toes to press her lips against Tzuyu’s forehead. (It is both a birthday wish and an apology, but nobody knows about the latter except for her own guilty conscience.)
The fans scream at her gesture because she is the only one so far to have kissed Tzuyu on the forehead. The Taiwanese girl grins widely, despite her usual reluctance to show her teeth when she smiles. (Tzuyu thinks she doesn’t look pretty when she smiles with her teeth. Mina thinks otherwise.) It alleviates the weight on her heart and Mina feels better, her chest less tight and breathing easier.
Her laughs are a lot more genuine after that (but the ache behind her ribs doesn’t leave her).
Mina doesn’t want to leave the set.
It’s a rare feeling because Mina usually never lingers after shootings, facial muscles tired from smiling too much. But this time she stays around after her Melody Project shoot, walking alone to find staffs to thank and give appreciation to. The set is beautiful and the staffs have given her a bouquet of flowers, sweet drinks, and a well-designed cake. Even so, these are not the reason why she chooses to stay.
Her phone bleeped earlier in the afternoon, alerting her of a message from the Twice chat group. Sana texted that they might drop by the filming location to watch and give their encouragement. She waited anxiously since then, watching time crawl by and glancing at the entrance of the filming set every now and then. Even now, she clings on to the last rays of hope while the sun sets, transitioning from day to night.
She wants to see her members.
One of the staffs approaches her with a camera in hand and a polite smile, asking if she wants to film her concluding interview for Melody Project. Mina checks her phone again, but only her background shows up. (The picture where she gets cut out.) She wants to do her interview with the rest of her members, so she delays it for ten minutes, feeling guilt seep in for making the staff wait.
She waits alone, unlocking her phone every other minute, only to see the battery life depleting and no incoming message from her members. Her manager shows up, all folded arms and grumpiness sketched all over his face.
“Mina, aren’t you going to do the interview now?”
“I told unnie to give me ten minutes. The members might be coming,” she says softly, eyes trained on the ground.
She hears her manager sigh and it makes her wish she wasn’t such an inconvenience to the people around her.
“Okay, don’t delay it any further than that.”
The manager nods and passes by the staff who is in charge of filming her interview. The staff walks towards her and she hurriedly checks her phone, disappointedly noting the time.
Ten minutes are up. As if on cue, her phone pings and she grabs her phone excitedly, only to be greeted by a carelessly written message from Sana.
Sana: Sorry Mina-ya, Dahyun and Jungyeon are too lazy to move. We’re ordering chicken for dinner now~
She reads the message over and over again, her mind refusing to make sense of the words. It makes her bite her inner lip, feeling tears well up in her eyes. She sinks her nails into the smooth skin of her palm, needing to remind herself that she still has an interview to film. Looking outside the set, she sees the last of the sun fade away into the horizon. Without light, the darkness comes invading in from foreign places. She locks her phone screen, the message surfacing repeatedly in her mind. They don’t even ask her what she wants for dinner.
Mina has forgotten that what she wants doesn’t matter.
“Are your members on their way?” the staff unnie asks.
The question feels like a bitter reminder that her members are not coming. It’s supposed to be harmless but Mina feels the words cut through her skin and wound her heart. Even so, she plasters a smile on, not wanting to trouble the staff any further.
“No, they aren’t. I’m sorry. Something cropped up,” Mina lies easily.
“It’s okay,” the staff unnie sounds somewhat sympathetic and Mina fights to keep a smile on.
They start the interview and they ask her the generic questions, like her afterthoughts and how she feels singing solo instead of having her members beside her. (She nearly blurts bitterly that it’s the same, but manages to catch herself.) She doesn’t mention her members at all, only mentioning the JYP staffs who came to take pictures of her, eyes avoiding the camera. She talks about the bouquet of flowers (which will die soon), the (overly) sweet drinks, and the well-designed cake (which had too much cream). She talks about enjoying them, but really, she very much prefers her members’ smiles to such materialistic endeavours.
It ends quickly and Mina gets ushered to the car where her manager awaits. The car ride back
home to the dorm does not last long and she finds herself standing in front of the entrance of their dorm, limbs exhausted and eyelids heavy. She struggles to slot the key in because of the huge bouquet and leftover cake in her hands. When she finally manages to swing the door open, she sees her members huddling together on the small couch, eight people somehow fitting into the tiny space.
Their eyes fall on her and their gaze makes her feel terribly small. A couple of lazy greetings and questions about her filming arise. She answers them briefly, placing the leftover cake in the refrigerator. No one even mentions their absence during the filming and Mina doesn’t have the strength to bring it up.
She suddenly thinks of home, in Japan, where her family is. She knows that her mother would welcome her with open arms and a ready smile. Her father would come home later and he would grin at her, asking her how her day was. Her brother would ruffle her hair playfully and tease her to try to get a reaction out of her. They would greet her this way, in the familiar Japanese that she has no trouble understanding. (Listening to all the Korean around her makes her frustrated sometimes.)
Her members are right here surrounding her and the room is filled with their presence. Mina doesn’t understand how it makes her feel even lonelier.
“There’s leftover chicken there, Mina. You must be hungry,” Sana says in Korean, getting up and slipping a hand into hers fondly.
She cannot help but recoil at the touch which burns through her, instinctively pulling her hand away and clasping both her hands together.
“Not hungry,” she mumbles curtly, accidentally making eye contact with Sana.
The brief flash of hurt does not go unnoticed by Mina and it makes her feel even more terrible than before. It reminds Mina of that time when she was gripped with jealousy and spite during Tzuyu’s birthday party. But the memory of her members’ absence lingers like a fresh wound which has not healed and Mina allows herself this once to be a bad person.
The hurt in Sana’s eyes rapidly turns into concern and warmth as she asks, “Are you okay? You look tired from the filming.”
Mina feels like disagreeing – that she is tired not because of the filming, but because no one was there at the filming. The words don’t make it past her lips (like many of her words) because she thinks she might cry if says the truth. Lying feels like second nature to her already.
The rest of the members are staring at the both of them, watching carefully. None of them speak, behaving as if they are tip-toeing around eggshells.
“Yeah, I am. I’ll be in my room,” she murmurs quickly, retreating to her room cowardly, heart wrenched and fists clenched.
When she is safe in her room, she closes the door and locks it, preventing anyone from entering her room. Mina doesn’t know why she’s doing this, pushing people away when she wants them nearer. She feels like a living irony, never living up to any expectations. She particularly hates feeling like this; stuck in the middle with nowhere to go.
It’s like how she dances well, but not well enough to take the role of main dancer like Momo. Or how she sings okay, but not good enough to be marketed as the main vocal like Nayeon, Jihyo or Jungyeon. Her fans call her pretty but she’s nowhere as beautiful as Tzuyu or Sana. She’s quiet and lacks humour unlike Dahyun who stands out in variety. And she can’t even speak Korean well, let alone rap like Chaeyoung.
Every member has their role to play, but Mina doesn’t even have a role.
She’s not good enough and it makes her question JYP’s decision of placing her in Twice and making them an odd-numbered group. She fades into the background when it comes to Twice and she wishes she could just blend in with the darkness of her room and disappear.
Her phone beeps and comes alive with a text message from the Twice chat group. She doesn’t bother reading the message, only focusing on her background and how it makes her look insignificant; not here or there. It makes her wish she didn’t audition after she got scouted because she wouldn’t be here, a compulsory member of Twice with her heart beating out of rhythm with the rest of them.
For once, the four walls which usually hide her away and protect her suddenly feel stifling. She feels imprisoned and suffocated and the walls seem to be caving in on her. As she hunches in the corner, hugging her knees to herself, she silently yearns for someone would come in to comfort her and maybe give her a hug.
(But you locked the door, you fool.)
It is around 3am when Mina hears a gentle rap on her door. She lifts her head from her knees, blinking in surprise. She shifts closer to the door in the darkness, listening intently. The knock sounds again and she waits for the person to speak.
“Mina? Are you awake?” Mina recognizes Sana’s voice and the latter sounds desperate, talking in rapid, hushed whispers.
Mina knows that Sana expects her to open the door, but she doesn’t, choosing to sit with her back against it instead. She doesn’t think she is ready to face any of her members right now, even Sana who is the closest friend to Mina. The thing about Sana is that she’s Mina’s closest friend, but Mina is not hers. Sana seems to be everyone’s best friend and it hurts Mina to even think about it.
“What is it?”
“Let me in.”
It is not in the words, but in the way Sana says it, gently and voice lower than usual. She says it like she means it in more ways than one and Mina ends up opening the door obediently. The girl is carrying a plate of cookies and a glass of milk and she smiles softly, eyes bright and knowing, making Mina feel like an open book which Sana knows all the words to.
“I thought you might be hungry, so I brought these along. The cookies are chocolate-chip flavoured, don’t worry.”
“Thank you,” Mina says, hanging her head in shame, feeling contrite for brushing Sana away earlier.
“Do you want to tell me why you’re upset?” Sana asks, settling down on the floor and leaning her back against the bed.
Not waiting for an answer, she taps the space beside her and Mina sits down, her shoulders touching Sana’s slightly. The older Japanese places the plate and glass down on the floor and picks up a cookie, bumping it against Mina’s lips. The latter’s mouth falls open and takes a bite of the sweet treat, munching it softly. Sana places the cookie gingerly in Mina’s hand before wiping her fingers with a tissue. She doesn’t look at Mina, choosing to stare at the white wall in front of her.
Mina recognizes what her friend is doing – choosing not to press her for answers but leaving it up to her to make a decision. Gratitude rushes through her and she already feels much more comfortable in the darkness with Sana beside her. Sana remains silent even when Mina finishes the cookie, merely passing to Mina the glass of milk. The silence is comfortable and she drinks her milk in peace, watching Sana getting lost in her thoughts. Mina wonders what the girl is thinking.
“I’m sorry,” Mina starts, pulling Sana out of her reverie. “For getting upset at you for no reason.”
“You’ve been upset for a while now. I noticed it a while back and I don’t think it’s without reason,” Sana says thoughtfully.
Sana looks very different from how she usually is, supposedly very cheerful and quite clumsy. The Sana now still feels very warm, but Mina feels like the warmth is laced with care and concern that feels serious and genuine. It leaves Mina wondering she actually truly understands Sana.
“I’m sorry. It’s just—no one came to the filming just now. I was bored and tired—you guys said you might come, so I waited. I stayed back after filming because you guys didn’t tell me if you were coming or not. I assumed you guys were coming—because they were there for your filming too,” Mina is rambling.
She doesn’t know where these words are coming from and she can’t seem to stop them. It feels like the words are rushing due to a broken dam that can no longer accommodate such pressure.
“And you guys didn’t ask me what I wanted for dinner. I was alone and even the staffs came to give me presents. But I couldn’t even feel grateful for them—I’d rather have you guys come rather than the staffs come with gifts.”
She knows she’s speaking in a mix of emotional Japanese and broken Korean because she cannot find the right words to say. Throughout her whole rant, Sana just sits there; listening closely to Mina like she is the only one who matters. She wears a tender smile and has a soothing hand on Mina’s arm, fingertips dancing against her skin lightly.
“—so I was upset. I really didn’t mean to say hurtful things. I’m sorry.”
Mina finishes her outburst and she feels like she isn’t getting enough air. Sana only shifts closer, their bare legs touching. Their fingers intertwine and the contact calms her breathing and anchors Mina to reality. Even in the dark, Mina can tell that Sana looks at her with fondness and affection and her eyes are full pools of dark brown.
“You were lonely,” Sana says like she understands and suddenly, Mina’s chest doesn’t feel tight anymore.
Just knowing someone understands her makes relief course through her veins. She squeezes Sana’s hand gratefully and Sana squeezes back with a smile that breaks down all of Mina’s walls.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers weakly, her throat dry and voice hoarse.
Mina feels like the calm after the storm, the aftermath of a disaster, like the worst is over and there’s nowhere else to go but up.
“You could have told us, you know?” Sana says with a hint of amusement in her voice, like it was the easiest solution and Mina didn’t think of it.
She gulps apprehensively even though she knows that Sana is always accepting, having a heart that is always open. Sana gives out her love for free and sometimes, Mina doesn’t like the advantage (only because she worries for her friend).
“I was scared,” Mina confesses, revealing her worst fears.
Sana’s answer is something that Mina expects, but she isn’t aware of how the words manage to calm her uneasy heart.
“And you don’t have to be,” Sana says simply. “You don’t have to be scared or lonely.”
Her friend tucks a few loose strands of hair behind her ear affectionately, making sure her hair doesn’t cover her eyes as she continues.
“You have me.”
Mina wants to argue, say that she doesn’t really have Sana because everyone else has her too. But the argument dies in her throat when she sees the brightness in her eyes despite the darkness. Sana feels like a beacon of light guiding Mina and Mina thinks she might be lost without the older girl. She manages to tell Mina so much; in the way the light in her eyes never flicker, in the way her brows are tugged downwards, in the way her lips purse. Sana is looking at her like she wants to scold Mina for being dumb, but at the same time hug and squeeze her tightly till she knows she is loved.
“You have me,” Sana repeats.
The three words feel too overwhelming for Mina because she hears all the unsaid words that Sana wants to convey with those three words.
Mina doesn’t know when she started crying, because she suddenly feels her cheek stained with wetness and Sana is leaning over to brush her tears away with her thumb. Her shoulders quake with emotion and the older girl pulls her into an embrace, patting Mina’s back gently.
“Thank you, unnie,” Mina mumbles gratefully into the crook of her neck, relishing in Sana’s warmth.
She can hear the affectionate smile in her voice, “You have us. There’s no need to be lonely anymore.”
They stay like this for a while, Sana caressing Mina’s hair and Mina just listening and memorizing the rhythm of Sana’s heartbeat.
“Oh right,” the girl hears Sana start, “Give me your phone.”
Mina reluctantly pulls away before placing her phone in the older girl’s hands. She watches as Sana swipes across the screen to unlock her phone, raising an eyebrow at the lack of a password. She then taps on settings and quickly changes her phone background to a new group picture of Twice – one in which everyone perfectly fits in her phone screen, huddled together with their arms around each other, with smiles that spell of youth.
Sana sounds mildly irritated when she says, “I couldn’t stand your phone background anymore. The picture was too blurry.”
The slightly riled up tone Sana uses causes Mina’s lower lip to wobble and she needs to chew on it so that she doesn’t start crying again. She hears the older girl disguise her intent with pretend annoyance and understands what Sana is trying to do.
Sana is usually very upfront, expressing her thoughts with straightforwardness. It is so unlike Sana to hide away her intentions like how Mina hides away her feelings. Seeing these new sides of Sana, Mina thinks that she probably didn’t understand her friend at all.
So Mina only wipes away her tears, breaking into a genuine smile, “It looks a lot better now.”
The corners of Sana’s lips are lifted into a smile, but there is something in the way Sana’s eyes twinkle, like cloud-covered stars that dot the night sky. Or maybe it is just the streetlights outside reflected in her eyes. Mina stares, trying to search for a meaning behind that look, but ends up getting lost in misty constellations.
Suddenly, there are a few knocks on the door and hushed whispers outside, Mina’s attention now no longer on Sana. The door opens to reveal her members who stand around outside. Mina sees the way her members look at her and—it’s not intimidating anymore. Jungyeon and Dahyun wear apologetic smiles as they raise plastic bags and wave them around.
“Will ketchup and yukhoe make you feel better?”
Mina blinks in surprise and turns to Sana questioningly, who merely smiles and shrugs like she doesn’t know anything even though the answers are in her eyes. Mina feels herself smile through the tears and it has been a while since her smiles aren’t forced. Sana stands, dusting her pants and offering a hand to Twice’s beloved penguin. Mina takes her hand, allowing herself to be pulled up.
Sana doesn’t let go, but drags her into the living room with the rest of Twice following along. The house becomes noisy again as Jihyo tries to shush them because it is 3am. Jungyeon and Momo cling onto her while bickering and comparing their terrible habits.
“I’m moving into Mina’s room! Every time I see you leave crumbs around, I die a little more on the inside,” Jungyeon cries, swatting Momo away from Mina.
“I call dibs on Mina!” Nayeon calls from the kitchen as she plates the food. “Jihyo keeps nagging at me for ‘shedding clothes like a snake’.”
She laughs softly and she’s surprised to hear that her voice blends in well with the rest. She catches Sana looking at her, winking like they have a shared secret. Her heart feels like it’s overflowing as her members shower her with love, and she wonders why she kept to herself and pushed them all away in the first place.
Mina learns that what she wants matters most to her members.
Her heart learns of a new rhythm and she knows that her heart is finally beating in sync with the rest.
Later, Mina will find herself in bed at 4am, uncomfortably (but willingly) sandwiched between Momo and Jungyeon who hug her like a life-sized penguin plushie.